I once messed up a box of Kraft Mac N Cheese. I am an absolutely hopeless cause when it comes to working in the kitchen. But that isn’t to say I don’t have a passion for it. If and when I devote the time (money) and effort to it, I thoroughly enjoy cooking. And when I can’t find the time to cook, I still enjoy eating just as much. I’ve been spending the past couple of minutes looking through Cook’s Country, some cute little foodie magazine I’d never heard of but that has amazing pictures and makes my mouth water.
It got me thinking about food, though. I walk home down Ninth Avenue and pass dozens of delicious-smelling, boutique-y, small, eclectic restaurants. Yes there are some that look like they’ve contracted some sort of STD, but the gems shine comparatively brighter compared to the ethnic grunge of Hell’s Kitchen. I’m hungry all the time. And I’d be lying if I said I haven’t Googled the best Italian restaurants or picked out where I’m making my parents take me when they come to visit. But this isn’t the first time food (or the lack thereof) has defined me. For as long as I can remember, it’s played an active and constant role in my life. So I decided to compile some little anecdotes about how food brought me to the three most incredible women I’ve ever met.
Mom: My mom’s rule when it came to grocery shopping was that whichever child went got to pick out something they wanted. For my brothers, that meant taquitos and ice cream, but for me it meant something weird. I remember the first time my mom and I found celeriac. And persimmons. She was always experimental and fun about food. Even when we didn’t know what something was, we would buy it and then look up how to cook it in The New Joy of Cooking when we got home. Celeriac was middle of the road, but oftentimes our science experiments yielded incredible results. I remember I once picked out Chinese long beans because I thought they looked like some sort of monster hair. But when we brought them home and learned how incredible they are sauteed, we were in legume heaven. Mouthgasmic bliss, right there. The first time I went vegetarian my junior year of high school, my mom did it with me as our Lenten sacrifice. And though I craved Carls Jr. jalapeno burgers almost as much as chocolate, we made it fun. I remember looking through vegetarian recipes and trying to make eggplants sound appealing. We made these ricotta cheese Italian roll-up things once and I swear the prep work took two hours. But they ended up being amazing.
My mom didn’t make me lunches until I was in high school (a little behind the curve, but I didn’t mind). But her lunches were incredible. As my brother’s high school girlfriend said, our lunches were “circus lunches,” full of different food groups and color. When I was vegetarian, she catered to that, making falafel and packing hummus and celery. With the exception of the ever-present bag of carrots (which I always gave away), I loved every single lunch I had.
Last summer, when I went to Europe with my mom, we had an absolute blast. I’ve never met someone so experimental and inspiring. We would never order the same thing, always order wine and dessert, and we challenged ourselves to try things we might otherwise write off–like fresh anchovies and sardines in northern Italy or mussels and frites in Belgium. In Sienna, we stumbled around the tiny walled city for probably an hour looking for some Rick Steves-approved place before finally “settling” for a whole in the wall close to our hotel. When we saw the menu was entirely in Italian, we just signed to the waitress/owner that we’d have whatever she wanted to make. And we ended up with a porridge-y soup, some stewed meat, and spinacci (even I could read that). As we found out later, the meat was boar, not beef. But I didn’t care in the least. I was too busy listening to my stomach purr.
Bo: I wouldn’t necessarily call Bo’s food choices diverse, but the girl knows what she likes and I have to give her that. Half a hamburger at The Cheesecake Factory, Steak at Jake’s, pasta at Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza. And Machaca at Rod’s. Even if she weren’t my best friend, I would love her for sharing Rodrigo’s with me. Somehow, that little hole in the wall has seen me through some amazing transitions in my life. So many of my high school ghosts visit the restaurant (can I call it that?) that under any other circumstances, I would avoid it like the plague. But Rodrigo’s is one piece of PQ that I will never quite let go of. Rodrigo’s is the common stomping ground and it’s a place where Bo and I can go and just be us, her and me, the Shis. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Machaca is the shit. Hot or cold, drowning in salsa and spilling everywhere. Noms.
J: I still remember my first lunch with J. I described it once in conversation… It was awkward because I think we both knew intuitively that we were going to be close. But we had to get all the small talk and details out of the way first. But really. I remember wearing my pledge pin. I remember which corner table in Stetson East. And from then on, I spent almost every single dining hall meal with the girl. Over Colin-the-omelet-master’s omelets and those amazing little rolls they have by the pizza stand, we learned the ins and outs of each others lives. We cooked Easter brunch together (or she cooked and I ate WAY too much), we made eclaire cake together (OMG, yum). Last summer I came to visit and we all had the most incredible potluck (shout-out to the “Stinky Salad”). This year, we both had kitchens and we were able to experiment even more. I remember the first time she made me a salad with a fried egg on it. I nearly died. Or making a pumpkin pie a week. Or having steak at her parents’ house.
In a show of apology and gratitude to some guy friends who took care of me one best-to-be-forgotten weekend, I made enchiladas in their stunning (albeit disgustingly dirty) kitchen. The next Sunday, she made bolognese. And then one of the guys made chicken parmasean. There in that kitchen, we grew even closer. Whenever she felt inspired to experiment, I reaped the benefits. When I’ve been sad or upset, there’s always been a heaping plate of deliciousness to cheer me up. And I remember one night when she hauled her butt across campus to the news room to bring me some southern corn chowder. I can say without hesitation or any iota of regret that my relationship with J is tied to food, to our shared appreciation for it, to our love for cooking it, for our zeal for eating it. I’m more than excited to share a (much cleaner) kitchen with her in September. The freshman fifteen will be nothing compared to the middler midsection. Bring it on.
Food is so much more than a life force. It’s a bridge connecting me to the people I love. It’s a hobby and a skill. It’s something I can look forward to. Though my family couldn’t always come together and eat dinner (hockey and Scouts and theater and choir kind of mess with the Daniells family calender), we strove to have breakfasts together. And not the cold cereal kind. But omelets and bacon and the good stuff. The kitchen table was, and subsequently always will be, a place of conversation and community. Kind of funny that food can be so simple, but such a binding (and delicious) force. I’m loving it.